Reporter's Notebook

Remembering the Horde
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A collection of memories from members of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s old commenting community, which was profiled by Eva Holland in “‘It’s Yours’: A Short History of the Horde.”

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Remembering the Horde, Cont'd

A former moderator of TNC’s comments section, Sandy Young, writes:

Depiction of the Golden Horde (Wikimedia)

That was a good piece on the Horde. I would disagree to some extent with Jim’s claim that we “drove away” dissenting voices like Amichel—who, if memory serves, continued to post right up to the reparations article. But that’s small potatoes.

In keeping with the Horde/Khan/Steppes metaphor, I would remind people that, while it was thrilling, being a member of the Horde was also a hard bloody ride. You had to follow along as people far more knowledgeable dove into difficult topics, and you had to search for sources to defend your positions. And more often than not, you had to let go of that stubborn insistence that you were right. As I said to one commentator who had just apologized for handing me my ass, “This is no place to be if you can’t stand being wrong.”

You have linked before to some of the more memorable conversations, such as oatmeal. But I wonder if you have read what, in my opinion, was TNC and the Horde at its best: his pieces on “The Civil War Isn’t Tragic.” That was an on-going discussion, analysis and scholarship that is unsurpassed in the records of the Horde.

The Horde was always a delicate balance. As TNC’s fame grew, he became a bigger target, and no amount of moderation would have stopped the attacks. It simply wasn’t a platform built for that. Most of us miss it, but we go better armed into the world of ideas because of it, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

From another member, silentbeep:

The Horde is not dead, not really.  We still talk to each online in other mediums, such as the five-year-old Facebook group we would periodically advertise in the OTANs. (The group is only for TNC commenters, or now past commenters, with extremely rare exceptions, and TNC knows of its existence.) We even meet offline. Erik’s tone made it seem like we’re far gone, and that’s just not the case.

Dan Fox shares a wonderful, in-person memory:

As a member of the Horde, I wanted to relay a story about Ta-Nehisi from his early days at The Atlantic, when had dinner with me on my birthday.

If you’re not familiar with The Horde, Ta-Nehisi’s community of commenters, this short history by Eva Holland will give you an excellent idea. It begins:

Ta-Nehisi Coates started blogging for The Atlantic on August 4, 2008. His first post was titled “Sullivan… McArdle… Fallows… Coates???” and it laid down his terms from the start: “My only rule, really, is simple,” he wrote. “Don’t be a jerk to people you disagree with.”

The first recorded comment came from “8th Level Barbarian”:


For genius commentary on the D&D lifestyle, search for “Fear of Girls” on YouTube. The original is classic, but the sequel is pretty awesome, too.

One of the most prolific commenters became Jim Elliott, better known to The Horde as “Erik Vanderhoff.” Last month, just before Notes launched, I was emailing with Jim about how the new bloggy section will try to rekindle some of the lost magic of The Horde. Over the past few years, as traffic to Ta-Nehisi’s posts grew and grew, his ability to moderate a civil atmosphere among his readers became nearly impossible. Finally, about a month ago, all of his posts were automatically closed to comments, joining Fallows and Goldberg.

Jim mentioned that he had been writing a retrospective of The Horde, so I offered to post it as a clarion call to other members of The Horde within Notes. Given today’s news of Ta-Nehisi garnering a MacArthur grant, prompting this poignant appreciation from Yoni (known to The Horde as “Cynic”), now seems like the perfect time to post. So here’s Erik Vanderhoff:

Mere happenstance brought me to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ virtual door: A quoted paragraph at Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish arrested my eye. Was there a link to follow? Why, yes there was! And follow it I did, to The Atlantic’s collection of bloggers, and I never turned back.

Since that day in 2008, rarely a day went by that I didn’t navigate back to Coates’s page, enamored as I was—and largely still am—with the wordplay of the man I consider the finest prose writer working in the American tongue. Coates has the ability to string words together to form passages that make other lovers of language throw their hands up in despair.

A mild despair—and, if I’m honest, something of a fanboy-ish obsession—were born, and I demanded constant sustenance in the form of blog posts or articles. Other than his Twitter stream, I think it’s fair to say I haven’t missed something Coates has written since. His openness and inquisitiveness attracted me, and dozens more like me. Comment threads were opened and a torrent commenced. Discussing the topics he raised, from the continued salience of Spider-Man to the foofaraw of Ron Paul to the immensity of the first black president, a community formed. I still remember many of those avatars with great fondness: Emily L. Hauser, Sandy Young (Corkingiron), Baiskeli, petefrombaltimore, exitr, JBColo, Craig, and on and on.

The commenters—dubbed the Horde by our host and Khan—were special to me, distinct online personalities that I came to know and enjoy, all the more so because the Khan did not hold himself aloof or apart from his people. No, he waded into the muck and wrestled and laughed and cried with us. (I’ll never forget the day he opened an Open Thread at Noon just to commiserate over the fact that my dog had died the night before.) Coates mustered a digital army, and his unwillingness to hold himself as a leader to that community made us love it, and him, all the more.

And that, I think, ultimately gave us the opportunity to become our own undoing.